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Why I decided to have my son opt-in on standardized tests

One Long Island mom talks about why she

One Long Island mom talks about why she decided to have her son opt-in on standardized tests. Credit: iStock

Opt-in. Opt-out.

If my sixth-grade son learned nothing else this year, he learned what those phrases meant.

After the first day of the state English Language Arts assessments, he said to me, “Why didn’t you opt me out?” I explained that I believe the tests will give both the school and us a good measure of how he is learning this year, and that test-taking and being evaluated is a part of life. He said the test was hard and too long.

I asked him some questions: Do you have a headache? Does your back hurt? I asked more questions, looking for signs that taking the test somehow diminished his belief in himself or his accomplishments. He just looked at me quizzically and asked if he could have a Nutella sandwich before dinner.

In a movement against the Common Core, thousands of parents opted their children out of the state tests this week. I respect that. They say their research shows that the educational value of the tests is small, and that they don’t properly evaluate the child's educational progress. Many of those parents have taken on the slogan for their children. “I’m more than a test score.” On that slogan,  I would agree.

They are also more than touchdowns, home runs and soccer goals. They are more than a first seat in orchestra or winner of the science fair project, too.

Yet we still ask our kids to do the best they can in those areas. Striving for excellence is an important part of life. If he scores low, which is possible for my son, who only came to this country four years ago and is still on the English as a Second Language spectrum, it is OK with me.  But it’s still important because it tells me where he is academically and where we need to spend more of his time and attention. It tells his school district that, also. He need not feel inadequate. It’s a measuring tool.

Another criticism is that the Common Core is not age-appropriate, and that it makes simple things like addition and multiplication more convoluted than they need to be.  In fact, in today’s Letters to the Editor, parents with science and math backgrounds note they have trouble navigating their child’s homework.

I have had the opposite experience. I find that the math especially is being taught in a way that allows the student to think beyond the numbers and in a more comprehensive way.

Here’s a question right out of the Common Core Engage NY Lesson 14: Daryl spent $4.68 on each pound of trail mix. He spent a total of $14.04. How many pounds of trail mix did he purchase?”  Or this in Lesson 9:  25 3/10 + 375 77/100. Do you think these questions are too hard for sixth-graders? I don’t, especially when they are learning about each digit’s value in a particular number.

Then there is this in Lesson 17: Is 10,534,341 divisible by 3?

Whoa, Nelly! That is a tough one. Until you look in the lesson manual and see there are 10 divisibility rules. One of them is: Are the sum of the digits divisible by 3? Yes, 21 is divisible by 3. Whew.

Of course, Common Core isn’t perfect. It’s radical and new and needs smart people to help make it better. But I still think it’s the right thing to do – for my son and for our nation.

Education is in trouble.  Too many high school graduates don’t know basic grammar, or, more important, how to comprehend text beyond its literal meaning.  I know many college professors in both community and 4-year colleges who are discouraged with these students’ abilities. So, the idea of a “common core” makes sense to me.  I think we should have a basic template to make sure children are learning what they should be learning at the appropriate time.  Remember, every test and quiz our children take is an evaluation of what they have been taught in class. That is what learning is about. It’s still up to good teachers to teach the lessons.

So, for today and tomorrow, my son will take the tests. He will be tired and annoyed. That is OK. Trust me. He will come home and be more concerned with getting mods for his Minecraft game or who is home to play with this afternoon than how he performed on that test. And that’s OK, too.  My son is more than a test score.

--Written by Stacey Altherr

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